Frenkie de Jong is now the most expensive Netherlands player of all time after sealing an €86 million summer move from Ajax to Barcelona. Michael Bell looks at De Jong’s rise from the tiny village of Arkel to stardom via Tilburg.

On Wednesday, Frenkie de Jong sealed a move from Ajax to Barcelona for a Dutch transfer record fee of €86 million. From next season, the 21-year-old will be playing at the Nou Camp alongside his idol Lionel Messi. Something he dreamt of when growing up in the tiny village of Arkel, located around 40 kilometres away from Rotterdam with a population of just over 3.000 people.

Frenkie’s grandfather Hans de Jong, a baker from Spijk, made the move to Arkel in the 60s and soon welcomed a son called John.

John, Frenkie’s father, was also a talented footballer and joined the ASV Arkel Academy at the age of five before having a spell with Feyenoord. However, he was released from the Rotterdammer’s academy before moving back home. He rejoined ASV Arkel, where he is a club legend and still playing, while also becoming a parking controller in Delft.

A big fan of the English band Frankie goes to Hollywood, John, along with his then-wife Marjon Schuchhard, chose the name Frenkie for their son and he would later follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the ASV Arkel academy aged five. De Jong had clear talent and after two years at the amateur club, the scouts came flocking to watch.

His whole family were Feyenoord fans and when the Rotterdam club came calling it appeared to be a dream for the De Jong’s. However, Frenkie was allowed to make his own decision and he was given a better feeling by Willem II. Despite the fact that Varkenoord was much closer to his family home than Tilburg, he decided to join Willem II.

Willem II’s academy is not as prolific as the famed Ajax or Feyenoord star factories but several Oranje internationals came through the club including Joris Mathijsen and Virgil van Dijk. Frenkie was determined to follow in their footsteps.

Looking back at his childhood, John said his son was obsessed with football and did all he could to get to the top, “He knows what he wants, that’s in his head. In the past he already had that mentality: going to bed on time, paying attention to his diet, not eating a whole bag of chips. His goal was clear to him, he wanted to become a professional football player. “

De Jong flourished in the Tricolores youth teams and would eventually sign his first professional contract with the club in 2013. The youngster idolised Messi and moulded his game using some of the Argentinian’s flair. He was a midfielder but he wanted to be able to take risks and dribble at his opponents. This made him stand out and he would make his first-team debut against ADO Den Haag at the end of the 2014/15 season, just days after his 18th birthday.

Willem II were desperate to tie De Jong down to a long-term contract but there were disagreements with coach Jurgen Streppel over his position and playing style. Streppel wanted him to be a defensive controller and play with less risk but De Jong wanted to be more attacking. Ajax would come calling and De Jong decided to make the move.

Amazingly, Willem II agreed to a fee of €1 for the midfielder, who would return to Tilburg on loan for the next season along with another Ajax fringe player. This deal was called “The biggest scar in my five years at Willem II by director Berry van Gool, who also stated the midfielder was the greatest talent the club had ever seen. A sell-on fee was added to the deal which has spared Willem II’s blushes and they will receive around €7 million of the Barcelona fee.

De Jong was expected to be a key man at the start of the 2015/16 season but he was not used by Streppel, who preferred Robert Braber in his midfield. The club was in a relegation battle and Streppel preferred the more conservative and experienced Braber over the youthful and more risky De Jong.

After De Jong’s deal with Barcelona was announced, Streppel looked back on his time with the midfielder and said to NPO Radio, “When he was fifteen, we already had him train on a talent afternoon. You saw his qualities then.

“I would have liked to have brought him more often when the time was right and we, as trainers, also have to make choices. Sorry Frenkie, that I did not let you play every minute, but that was another time.”

Braber, who now plays for Helmond Sport said to Voetbalzone earlier this year, “He had zero fear, he picks up the ball and makes his actions, it is positive arrogance. We played with Jong Willem II against Feyenoord and boys like Lex Immers, Tonny Vilhena and Jens Toornstra joined in. We lost 3-2, but in the midfield, we were lord and master. Frenkie de Jong ran rings around them from all sides. Then I knew, this boy can really play football.”

Braber could also see that De Jong had a big future, “When De Jong played with Willem II, I did not think: he’s going to play at Barcelona, ​​but if he keeps on developing himself, I’m sure he will play football in the top of Europe and that he will become a fixture in the Dutch team.”

De Jong would only make two appearances for Willem II in the first half of the season and his loan was cut short. He returned to Ajax and would eventually make his debut for the Amsterdammers against Willem II.

The rest is history with De Jong not only becoming a star player for Ajax over the next two years and playing in the Europa League final defeat to Manchester United, but he is also now a key man for Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands. De Jong ran the show in the wins over Germany and France, which led to PSG star Kylian Mbappe begging his club to sign the midfielder.

PSG came close, but the 21-year-old has chosen with his heart and will join his idol Lionel Messi in Barcelona.

Next season, De Jong, who saw his Instagram following go up by 300,000 in one day, will be a footballing superstar and playing for arguably the biggest club in the world. However, his dad is clear, “Frenkie is still an Arkel boy” and he shuns the fame and distractions that come with being a professional footballer.

De Jong has a club Mercedes, but his mother revealed to Volskrant that he is brought down to earth by her if he gets to big for his boots. He has no tattoos, still eats and drinks healthily, buys his clothes from H&M and when ASV Arkel looked to name a stand after the midfielder, he rejected it, stating he had not done anything special in his career yet to earn it.

That may change in the near future with De Jong determined to win trophies at Ajax before going to Spain, where he will contest for the Champions League. He is also regarded by many as the saviour of the Dutch national team that will face England in the UEFA Nations League semi-final against England this summer.

For now, there is just a lifesize picture of De Jong on one of the walls in the ASV Arkel canteen to honour the club’s most famous graduate, who has not just put the club on the map but also his home town.

Frenkie de Jong wasn’t made in Amsterdam. He is the pride and joy of Arkel!




Michael Bell (53 Posts)